A new book by an emeritus professor of sociology and social work at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point reveals the complex relationships among those in labor, management and organized crime in early 20th Century northeastern Pennsylvania anthracite mining.
Robert P. Wolensky has co-authored “Anthracite Labor Wars: Tenancy, Italians, and Organized Crime in the Coalfield of Northeastern Pennsylvania 1897-1959” (Canal History and Technology Press) with William A. Hastie Sr., a former employee of the Knox Coal Company.
Much of what has been written about mining history focuses on industry-related concerns such as markets, transportation, competition, geology and technology. Wolensky’s and Hastie’s book centers on the worker, the broader work environment, community and role of ethnicity.
“We looked at the miner as an employee, a union member, a labor activist, a family member and a community citizen,” said Wolensky. “Our approach was decidedly in the mineworkers’ camp. We wanted to study the work culture, labor-management relationships, workplace grievances and labor militancy, including participation in, or opposition to, union movements—all related to subcontracting and leasing of mineral rights, often to organized criminals.”
Wolensky is a professor emeritus and acting co-director of the Center for the Small City at UW-Stevens Point. He was recently awarded a prestigious Fulbright fellowship for research conducted at England’s University of Exeter. A native of the Wyoming Valley of northeastern Pennsylvania, he has authored or co-authored books on area history such as the tropical storm Agnes flood of 1972, the Knox mine disaster of 1959, the garment workers industry between 1944-2000 and the Avondale mine disaster of 1869. He earned an undergraduate degree in sociology from Villanova University and a master’s and doctorate in sociology from Penn State University. He has been at UW-Stevens Point since 1976.